HOUSTON — Fabian White Jr. kept Houston close before Quentin Grimes provided the late spark to finish the regular season with a win.
White had 18 points and 14 rebounds, Grimes added 17 points and No. 21 Houston defeated Memphis 64-57 on Sunday.
Grimes had 15 second-half points, which led to a big run for the Cougars (23-8, 13-5 American Athletic Conference).
“He struggled early in the first half,” Houston coach Kelvin Sampson said. “He does that sometimes, but you have to stay with it because I know how good he is. Sometimes they’ve got to get out of their own way. When he gets out of his own way and gives himself permission to go be a dominant player, he can do it.”
Nate Hinton had 13 points for Houston, which shot 34%, including 48% in the second half.
“You’re not always going to make shots,” Sampson said. “We go into every game knowing that we have to defend and rebound. … I don’t want to lead the nation in offensive rebounds. I’d rather lead the nation in offensive field goal percentage, but if you’re not going to make shots, you better know how to fetch it.”
The Cougars forced 17 turnovers by Memphis, which they turned into 18 points. Houston also had a 45-41 advantage in rebounding and a 17-8 edge in second-chance points.
Houston will finish at least in a tie for second in the American.
Precious Achiuwa had 25 points and 15 rebounds and Lester Quinones added 10 points for Memphis (21-10, 10-8). The Tigers shot 36%, including 6 of 24 on 3-pointers.
“We understand what it was going to be like coming here,” Memphis coach Penny Hardaway said. “We knew it was going to be about protecting the ball and boxing out, and we didn’t get it done. I have to do a better job of doing that with my squad, of being more prepared to play a game like this. They are going to give you 40 minutes of nothing but energy, and you have to be prepared for it.”
Trailing 41-39 midway through the second half, Grimes ignited Houston to a 17-2 run to give the Cougars a 53-43 lead on a layup with 3:15 remaining.
“Once I came in there, the game was flowing right,” Grimes said. “We had some good plays defensively, come down get into a rhythm, make a few shots. When you make a few shots, you keep shooting them, keep taking them. That’s what I’m going to do.”
Memphis led 30-26 at the half behind 16 points from Achiuwa.
Memphis: The Tigers missed a chance to help their NCAA Tournament resume and fell to 2-3 this season against ranked opponents. … Excluding Achiuwa and Quinones, Memphis shot 5 for 19 from the field. … The Tigers were 5-6 on the road this season.
“We’re already short-handed, so all hands on deck every time we go out on the floor,” Hardaway said. “Precious had a monster game with 25 and 15. Lester got into double-figures, but you need everything. Boogie (Ellis) was 1 for 8 and Tyler (Harris) was 1 for 5, so we need everybody on that same page. We couldn’t get it done today.”
Houston: The Cougars had another poor shooting first half, hitting 22%, including missing their last nine field goals over the final 5:13 of the half. … Houston finished the season 14-2 at home and won its last 10 straight at home. … Houston was 8-0 following a loss this season.
“These guys all have internal clocks,” Sampson said of Houston’s first half shooting for the morning tipoff. “These guys aren’t great shooters anyway, and they dog gone sure not good at 10 o’clock in the morning. We just needed to get to the afternoon. We shoot a lot better in the afternoons compared to the mornings.”
With Wichita State and UCONN winning on Sunday, the Tigers finish 6th in the conference. The UofM will take on 11-seed East Carolina Thursday at 9:00 p.m.